About System Flow Diagrams


Think of the organization you work for. Most organizations have different departments. Each department performs a specific task within the organization. The work of that department is handed off to a different department upon completion. The department that just received that work uses it to complete a new task. Every department does its own specialized task until the final product is created. A system flow diagram is a visual representation of this interaction between various organization work centers.


A system flow diagram can represent activities as simple as following a recipe or as complicated as international trade. A visual representation gives members of an organization a sense of their place in the entire system. The common goal of a group, the source of information or supplies, the output of a team and even wasted energy can all be illustrated using a system flow diagram.


Basic symbols in flow charts usually include input, flow lines, process and output. The output from one process can begin another process as an input and multiple processes can be added to an entire system flow diagram.


The contents of any flow diagram should specifically and concisely describe the operations of the particular organization it describes. Simply using words like “input,” “output” and “process” does not adequately describe what is happening within the organization. Imagine you are making a flow chart about how to make coffee. You would describe the input as “Roasted Coffee Beans.” The flow line would simply be drawn to indicate the transfer of coffee beans to the next step. The process could then be described as “Grinding Coffee Beans.” Another flow line would be drawn to the output, which you would label as “Ground Coffee Beans.”


The information flow in a system flow diagram generally runs from top to bottom or left to right. These are the most instinctual directions for people who speak languages that read left to right and top to bottom. It helps to place an arrow at the end of your flow line to indicate which direction the process is moving. Occasionally you may see a cyclical flow diagram. This happens when the outputs of one process consistently feed into another process within the diagram and begin the entire process again.


System flow diagrams are commonly used in technological industries and in business management. Many scientific areas of study also use system flow diagrams to illustrate the operation of any given process. For example, the Krebs Cycle--which describes chemical reactions in biological cells that cause oxygen use for respiration--is often illustrated using a system flow chart. This type of chart helps describe the entire process on as little as one page, rather than multiple pages of written words. If you are going to create a flow chart for your business, your home or even for personal use, remember to be concise and descriptive. System flow diagrams can help keep you organized!

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